No matter what you call her, the Brooklyn-based musician’s sound is inspired, unique, and entirely her own. Here she sits down with COOLS to discuss what made her such a hit sensation in Japan.
“I am no ordinary girl,” Danielle “Danz” Johnson sings on “Ordinary Life (Message From An A.I. Girlfriend)” off of her latest semi self-titled DANZ album. She’s right. Danielle, aka Computer Magic, isn’t your average singer/songwriter and producer. The Brooklyn-based babe has released nine EPs and four albums while heading her own Channel 9 Records. Through this imprint, Danielle handles the art design for her singles, albums and merchandise while handling day-to-day operations. On top of this, Danielle Danz hosts a radio show, Outerspace, airing every other week via Newtown Radio. Indeed DANZ, Danielle’s sophomore North American album, is anything but conventional.
“I think I was worried that people might not be into it because some of the songs are a little avant-garde. I just hope people get it,” Danielle says regarding the album. DANZ stays true to her love of synths and science fiction but is less pop than the Davos EP she released in 2015. Furthermore, Danielle cites Barbarella, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien and Star Wars as her favorite sci-fi movies, in addition to 1970s throwback sci-fi flicks.
Though otherworldly vibes radiate from the album, there’s a sense of vulnerability interwoven interwoven throughout the project. In the somber song “Drift Away,” Danielle Danz reflects on the tragic loss of her stepbrother. This was the first she’s written a song about him. She adds, “When I was writing this record last year, I was living in New York City for like eight years and I started seeing somebody that lived upstate. So, I moved upstate. I think just being away from a lot of my friends and just working on music alone–because I make it all alone–is just kind of isolating. Most of the songs are written about that in turn.”
Isolation is nothing new to Danielle. She grew up as an only child with step-siblings that she’d only see on weekends and holidays. “When making music, I pretty much always make it by myself except for my live shows. I have a drummer with me. I’m used
to my own company,” she states. Solitude isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This seclusion has resulted in some of Danielle’s best work, especially on an international level.
It’s always interesting when an American artist is bigger overseas than domestically. Three out of five of Danielle’s LPs were released exclusively in Japan, where she has a massive following. This is evident by the stats alone. Her albums Scientific Experience (2012) hit #5 on Japan’s iTunes Charts while Mindstate debuted at #1. This all started after she released EPs online for free. She was then approached by a record label about turning the EPs into compilation records exclusive to Japan.
“It’s crazy to me because in the US, I’m not on a label. I put out stuff on my label with the help of a distribution company, but I’m not gonna be a #1 on the iTunes here. No way. Maybe someday I will. It’s kind of cool that that happened in Japan,” Danielle Danz says with a laugh. Her songs have been featured in commercials for Panasonic and QP Half. She’s also made appearances on morning talk shows such as Mezamashi TV covering the Tokyo Game Show. “I tour there pretty much every year. I love it. It’s amazing. I never had plans to be specifically big there. It just kind of happened because I got a label.” Surely, Danielle’s futuristic motif fit right in with that of Japan’s culture of fashion and technology.
In addition to capturing the heart of Japan through her music, Danielle Danz also caught the rapt attention of artist Kim Gordon and screenwriter Sofia Coppola. The latter collaboration resulted
in a one-day shoot in Japan at Coppola’s Milkfed store in the Harajuku district.
Last November, Danielle was the face of Kim Gordon’s X-Girl 90s grunge-inspired fashion label. “Both are really cool brands. In the 90s, X-Girl was Kim Gordon’s brand and Milkfed was Sophia Coppola’s. Now they were bought by Japanese companies. So, they’re still big in Japan. I don’t know if you can get X-Girl or Milkfed here in the States, but there are stores over there (Japan).
It’s pretty cool.”
Describing Harajuku, Danielle states that “everyone is dressed to a tea” and compare the parties to New York Fashion Week. “In Harajuku, everyone is always trying to be stylish and everybody is trying to wear different stuff. There’s a lot of Lolita style, like little girl’s style with cute dresses.” Ultimately, that Japanese district should be on every fashionista’s bucket list. Much like her music, Danielle’s personal style is one of distinction.
Though she’s been paralleled to musicians ranging from Grimes to Austra, Danielle Danz’s music has a signature thread that’s seasoned with synths and confectionary vocals that sounds purely like Computer Magic.
“If I was like these other artists, I wouldn’t be me. I think before I decided to release this record I was afraid of straying from being any different from all of my other music. I think that I learned that it’s okay for me to write whatever I want. It’s my music, but I feel like sometimes as an artist you’re confined to write a certain style,” Danielle interjects. “I think that sometimes it’s easy for people to just kind of put you in a box. As an artist you can’t be put into a box because then you can’t really grow and make anything good. I think it’s important to write stuff that’s true to yourself and style. [DANZ] is darker than usual, but it still sounds like Computer Magic.”
Categorizing an artist into one set genre–or to compare them to another artist–is akin to caging a beautiful butterfly.